Book Review-‘In Nelson’s Wake: The navy and the Napoleonic Wars’ by J. Davey

By Isaac Land, published December 2020


This well-written volume offers a comprehensive narrative history of the years following Trafalgar, arguing that naval blockade ‘a tedious and challenging task that required enormous patience and determination’ (p. 68) was the key to victory. To sustain a blockade on this scale required bureaucratic brilliance and logistical innovations enabling ships ‘to remain on blockade for years at a time’ (p. 166). However, the strictures of blockade forced ambitious and aggressive naval officers to learn new habits of restraint (p. 52) and disillusioned some recruits ‘drawn in by stories of conflict, action, and adventure’ (p. 68). Davey argues that the story of the years after Trafalgar has suffered in the retelling; at the time it offered slim pickings for propagandists on the lookout for heroes, and subsequently, it did not supply the sort of clear-cut naval triumphs beloved by later historians who expected a winning strategy to involve decisive encounters at sea…

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Filed under: Napoleonic War | War of 1812
Subjects include: Navies | Strategy & Diplomacy

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